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Looking for alternative sources of lighting for my current worldbuilding project so I couldn't help but wonder if a bioluminescent plant-based lifeforms could be realistically feasible. I'm just looking for simple but primitive way to give my imaginary people/characters a source of light in the Darkness of night-time.

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    $\begingroup$ study.com/academy/lesson/… $\endgroup$ – Xavon_Wrentaile Aug 18 at 20:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Xavon_Wrentaile Thanks $\endgroup$ – Anonymousworldbuilding Aug 18 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ In a mundane setting, you have a real problem with the calorific cost of bioluminescense (especially the sort bright enough to see by!) and the limited evolutionary upsides of such costly behaviour. On the other hand, you've got the magic tag, so you can handwave any glowing things that you want, and say a wizard diddit. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Aug 18 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ Bioluminescence is a strategy for attracting mates or prey. But, it also attracts predators. If your bioluminescent species emitted in the infrared spectrum, and they could see in infrared, then it could give them an advantage at night to hunt, graze, and avoid predators. $\endgroup$ – EDL Aug 18 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ Check out this old question: Fluorescent Flora. The way you need to think about this question is not how the plants will glow, we know that is possible, but why. Everything in biology exists because it serves an evolutionary purpose. For your plants to glow they must get some benefit from it. $\endgroup$ – Mike Nichols Aug 19 at 15:32
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Schistostega pennata is a luminous moss that grows in the darkness of caves and gives off light as a greenish-gold glow. It is not enough light to see by but it is strong enough to guide someone's way.

enter image description here

There also exist bioluminescent protists (plant-like organisms), fungi, and bacteria. Plus a few other plants.

If your world has genetic engineering (or did in its past), there can be even more plants that glow, perhaps more strongly than existing ones.

Perhaps what will work for you is to take a plant like Schistostega and tweak it a bit with magic to glow more brightly.

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    $\begingroup$ Very insightful post ! Thanks a lot $\endgroup$ – Anonymousworldbuilding Aug 18 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ Worth noting that Schistostega doesn't emit any light of its own. The apparent glow is caused by reflecting lenses that the moss uses to accumulate light. The moss essentially has many tiny mirrors which reflect the faint light at the viewer to give the appearance that the moss is luminous, but this won't work for the question's purpose of finding an alternative light source. $\endgroup$ – Mike Nichols Aug 19 at 18:03
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Plants would have difficulty to obtain the concentrated excess energy required for, say, 1 watt light output. More viable are fungi or animals that can get the energy by respiration (burning oxygen). They will require feeding and care, like any carefully bred creature.

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  • $\begingroup$ Bioluminescent fungi it is then ! Thanks for the help $\endgroup$ – Anonymousworldbuilding Aug 19 at 13:26
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Plants that concentrate Carbon-14 in their leaves.

As radioactive material tend to glow in the dark, radium, plutonium or many other would do the job.

Then, the said plant would have to cope the radiation, but well … If earth lifeform are able to deal with UV and insane oxygen concentration, I'm sure your magic vegetal can survive this.

Edit: You can get info about radioluminescent paint there:

https://www.orau.org/PTP/collection/radioluminescent/radioluminescentinfo.htm

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  • $\begingroup$ I may not be right, but nor radium, plutonium nor uranium glows. Only polonium-210 (blue, I think). $\endgroup$ – Ender Look Aug 19 at 13:27
  • $\begingroup$ This is also a great answer. Thanks for the help ! $\endgroup$ – Anonymousworldbuilding Aug 19 at 13:28
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    $\begingroup$ @EnderLook You're somewhat right, but radium certainly was used for Radioluminescent Paint (see the "radium girl" story). Googling "Radioluminescent Paint" suggest you could also use tritium, promethium, strontium or carbon-14 $\endgroup$ – Madlozoz Aug 19 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Madlozoz interesting, I didn't know that radioactive materials could be mixed with radioluminescent phosphor to produce light. Thanks for the information. $\endgroup$ – Ender Look Aug 19 at 13:43

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